Is the government doing the country’s economy any favours by disrupting its daily running, putting thousands of migrant workers out of work and leaving employers high and dry, wonders Angeline Loh.
It seems to be the fad in the Home Ministry to aim for zero illegal migration through the initiation of a hard crackdown on apparent undocumented migrants in the country.
The current crackdown is not only hard but extremely sweeping. The use of virtually all security enforcement and personnel from various government departments have been streamlined to “flush out” undocumented migrants from every nook and cranny in the land.
Minister Zahid Hamidi wants to show that he means business through better organisation with almost militant fervour in the present hunt for “illegal migrants”, perceived to be breaking the law by their mere presence in Malaysian territory, without proper or any valid or legally recognised documented permission.
But this is not a new initiative, but, possibly a better organised one. Such crackdowns and migrant hunts have taken place over the past 10 years or more. The authorities incessantly vacillate between crackdowns and amnesties. Yet, what results have they reaped from these erratic actions coupled with threats of arrest, detention, whipping, brutal human rights violations and ultimately, deportation of undocumented migrants?
Does the Minister think that he will succeed where others have failed? Even if these measures have been planned months before, the obvious lesson has yet to be learned. Such action fails to stem the flood of assumed ‘undocumented’ migrants time and time again.
For all intents and purposes, this is a terribly myopic and futile method of solving the problem of undocumented migration, without positively identifying the root causes of it. Repeating an error frequently will not change the wrongness of the action to make it right.
The Minister continues to bang his own head against the wall; but who sustains damage? Not just the Minister or the migrants, but damage is likely to be caused to the whole country as well.
Employers know what they stand to lose when their workers are herded into immigration trucks bound for immigration detention centres. They need to replace them with new workers, incurring higher costs and more red-tape that will also cost them in fees for work permits, levies, and visas from the immigration authorities, and to ‘contractors for labour’ – with the added insult of having a criminal record, paying up to RM50,000 in fines or facing 12 months imprisonment (Section 55B Immigration Act 1959) in return for their economic contribution to the nation’s coffers. Work stoppages due to this ‘operasi’ also incurs losses that could run to thousands or even millions of ringgit per day.
So, is the government doing the country’s economy any favours by disrupting its daily running, putting thousands of migrant workers out of work, leaving employers high and dry in fear of potential bankruptcy? Whether locals are capable of completely filling the resulting job vacancies is debatable, as Malaysia claims to have a continuous shortage of manual labour.
Further, the restriction on labour and unionisation rights for local and migrant workers does not go down well with trade unions and labour rights NGOs. These basic rights that apply to the general working public affects their lives in a fundamental way. Undermining job security for migrant workers, which downgrades them to a pool of ‘disposable cheap’ labour doesn’t create confidence within the local labour market either.
Employers will still go for the perceived ‘lower cost’ option. Destabilising the availability of labour by erratically causing gaps in the labour market, through crackdowns, detention and deportation, does not resolve any existing labour shortage. It becomes a vicious cycle of economic disruption and needless human rights violations, at the expense of public order, economic growth and prosperity.
Yet, federal authorities resort to the same flawed tactics, attempting to convince Malaysians about the enormity of the problem of undocumented migrants. Is this issue really a problem – or is the problem grounded in apathy and lukewarm political will to establish a better migration regulation system that identifies and recognises current global migration realities?
Wasting human resources
The promised thoroughness of the ‘big sweep’ will inevitably clear out, indiscriminately, any potentially useful migrant resource that may fill the labour shortage vacuum in the aftermath of such a large scale operation.
Asylum seekers and refugees in the country are in no less danger of being repatriated by force (refouled) to home countries where they face threats to life and liberty arising from situations of widespread human rights violations and ongoing armed conflict.
In refusing to amend immigration laws to enable the recognition and protection of asylum seekers and refugees, another potential human resource is wasted. Asylum seekers are usually among the undocumented and could be legally regularised and permitted to join the labour forces temporarily, to fill gaps in times of labour shortage, while awaiting registration with the UN refugee agency.
Confirmed refugees could also fill this role to the advantage of employers that may be experiencing stoppages due to labour shortages and financial losses arising from the lack of a ready supply of needed labour. Direct employment of refugees and asylum seekers gives employers the added advantage of dispensing with the middlemen ‘contractors for labour’, thereby cutting extra costs. Refugees and asylum seekers gainfully employed would become contributors to Malaysia’s economic prosperity, resulting in a win -win situation for all.
The forced repatriation of asylum seekers and refugees continues to smear Malaysia’s human rights record and international image as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. In addition, Malaysia remains on Tier 2 of the US State Department’s human trafficking Watch List for the fourth year running. The government’s adamant refusal to sign up to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and its continuing non-recognition of asylum seekers and refugees, who are often treated as undocumented migrants, adversely affects the status and international standing of the country.
With the key elements of unregulated ‘contractors for labour’ practices in a legalised labour supply system and the presence of hundreds and thousands of ‘undocumented” migrants still in place, combined with rampant corruption, the difficulty of bringing human trafficking and people smuggling under control is obvious. So, is the grand ambition of achieving zero ‘undocumented’ or illegal migration even realistic?
Moreover, the failure to hinder the influx of so-called undocumented migrants raises suspicions that the same migrants in the country are being repeatedly arrested with possibly newer arrivals. A chat with some migrants and refugees who had been in detention in the past revealed that an underlying system of extortion accompanied human trafficking. Theoretically, victims of human trafficking could be “recycled” to be continuously extorted and blackmailed by unscrupulous parties to keep them out of the clutches of human traffickers. In this way, a lucrative source of illegal, immoral profit is created and it can subsist as long as there is a pool of migrants to extort from.
If the government is sincere in its efforts to stamp out endemic corruption, a commitment to review, regularise, monitor or terminate political-economic institutions and infrastructure that tend to permit corrupt practice must be seen to be put in place.
Failure to make such fundamental changes, particularly to the system of labour contracting, outsourcing, recruitment and immigration, show up these crackdowns as merely a political tactic to distract public attention from internal problems that the government is incapable of handling in a reasonable and just way.
Looking back, the 6P registration and regularisation process initiated in 2011 seems to have been a complete and utter failure, reverting to the same mess the immigration system was in, more than 10 years ago.